Historic Corn Enchiladas More than a Meal
Tara A. Spears
Archaeological research shows that corn was already being cultivated in Mexico 9000 years ago. It is believed that corn made a huge impact on the ancient civilizations that developed in the region around southern Mexico and South America. This is particularly evident from the remnants of Mayan culture, where a corn cult was highly developed. Infants had their heads squeezed between chopping boards, so that they could take on the ideal shape of a corn cob!
There is anthropological evidence that Mesoamerican peoples of Mexico used tortillas to wrap around other food. It is believed that the indigenous Mexicans living in the Valley of Mexico lake region used to eat corn tortillas folded up around small fish, which could have been the precursor to modern enchiladas. The conquistadores first wrote of enchiladas in the 1400s when describing food served at new world feasts.
Typically there are two ways to make enchiladas. You can either first dip the tortilla in chili sauce and then fry, fill and roll it, or you can first fry the tortilla, then dip it in sauce, fill and roll it. Popular fillings include chicken and herbs, shrimp and crab in chipotle cream sauce and Mexican beans and cheese but you can use beef, chicken, pork, seafood, potatoes, vegetables, cheese, or any combination.
In the traditional method to make enchiladas is to place a tortilla on a plate then pour some red chili sauce from a kettle over the top. Sprinkle some grated cheese over the first tortilla then add another tortilla. Add more chili sauce, more cheese, and top the lot with chopped onions and some lettuce. Enchilada recipes have been developed and passed down since the early nineteenth century until today many versions of enchiladas have little in common with this original Mexican method of preparation.
The baked enchilada is delicious by itself but some people like to add toppings: Sour cream, cheese, olives, lettuce, cilantro, chili peppers, or onions are popular toppings. Another way to enjoy enchiladas is to serve them with refried beans rather than chili sauce. Some variations of the basic enchilada earn it a different name on a menu: An enchilada made with tomato sauce instead of chili sauce is called an entomatada. An enchilada made with mole (a traditional Mexican sauce) instead of chili sauce is called an enmolada.
Derived from the Spanish verb enchilar, meaning “to add chile to” – enchiladas are a popular Mexican dish made with stuffed and rolled corn tortillas that get dipped in red or green chile sauce before being baked. While you’ve probably had some of those, you may have never had the creamier, Swiss-influenced variety known as enchiladas suizas.
The practice of rolling tortillas around other ingredients dates back centuries to Mayan times, but it wasn’t until Swiss immigrants – many of whom began producing cheeses, yogurt and crema – brought their love of dairy to the region that suizas, or Swiss-type dishes became popular in Mexico.
Enchaladas are frequently made with salsa verde. However, the richer flavor of enchiladas suizas is achieved by incorporating white milk or cream-based sauces like béchamel, layers of cheese like Swiss or Oaxaca, or all of the above over the meat tortillas.
You can enjoy enchiladas suizas at many Jaltemba Bay restaurants and my favorite is at Pina Loca on a Guayabitos return street. For those who miss the taste of Mexico when you are north of the border, try this version at home.
Enchiladas Suizas Ingredients yield 6 enchiladas
1/4 white onion
1 serrano chile
1 yellow chile (guerito pepper)
2 cloves garlic
1/4 bunch fresh cilantro
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup Mexican crema
1/2 cup heavy cream
Vegetable oil, for frying
6 corn tortillas
1 1/2 cups shredded chicken
1/2 cup shredded Oaxaca or mozzarella cheese
Directions Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Put the tomatillos, onion and both chiles in a medium heavy saucepan, cover with water and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Boil until the tomatillos turn an olive-green color, about ten minutes. Drain and transfer the tomatillos, onions and chiles to a blender. Add the garlic and cilantro and blend until smooth. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Spoon cooked chicken and sauce onto tortillas. Roll up and cover with stuffed tortillas with more sauce and cheese. Bake about 20-30 minutes until the cheese is melted and beginning to brown.